One of the coolest things about the Taste of Italy Houston Festival on March 3 is that it gives Houston-based wine and food professionals the chance to taste Italian wines and food products with the people who actually produce them.
Sadly, there is still so much confusion surrounding some of Italy’s most famous foods and traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena and Reggio Emilia is arguably one of the most misunderstood.
Most Americans — and unfortunately, most American food and restaurant professionals — are only familiar with the balsamic vinegar that they find at their local gourmet food market and/or supermarket.
There’s nothing wrong with these products. Depending on the producer, they can be more or less wholesome and higher or lower in quality.
But they are not traditional balsamic vinegar, which can only be produced in the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia (in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy) and must be produced from grape must.
And here’s where the big difference lies.
Red and white “wine” vinegar is made, as the name reveals, from wine — grape must that has been fermented.
Traditional balsamic vinegar, on the other hand, has to be made from grape must, in other words, grape juice that hasn’t been fermented.
The many commercial balsamic vinegars (not traditional) that you find on supermarket shelves are made from a blend of grape must, concentrated grape must, and wine vinegar.
And commercial balsamic is not aged for extended periods like traditional balsamic vinegar, which must be aged for a minimum of 12 years. Yes, 12 years!
There will be two producers of traditional balsamic vinegar at the festival on Thursday, March 3. It will be a great opportunity to taste with them and learn more about what traditional balsamic vinegar really is.